Dinosaur Bichir Care Guide

dinosaur bichir


The Dinosaur Bichir, also known as the Polypterus senegalus, is a unique and prehistoric-looking fish species that is popular in the aquarium trade. These fish have a distinctive elongated body and an ancient appearance, which has led to their nickname as “living fossils”. They are a hardy and resilient species that can adapt to a wide range of aquarium conditions, making them a popular choice for intermediate to experienced aquarists. However, they have specific care requirements and can grow quite large, so it is important to understand their needs before adding them to your aquarium.

Summary Table

Common NameDinosaur Bichir
Scientific NamePolypterus senegalus
Origin / DistributionAfrica
SizeUp to 16-20 inches (40-50 cm)
Aquarium SizeMinimum of 75 gallons for one adult
Water ParametersTemperature: 75-82°F (24-28°C), pH: 6.5-7.5, Hardness: 5-15 dGH
DietCarnivorous, feeds on live or frozen foods such as shrimp, worms, and small fish
Feeding FrequencyOnce or twice daily
TemperamentGenerally peaceful, may eat smaller tankmates
TankmatesCompatible with larger, peaceful species
BreedingDifficult to breed in captivity
LifespanUp to 15-20 years
Care LevelIntermediate
Unique Features / AppearancePrehistoric appearance, elongated body, dorsal fin runs the length of the body
Conservation StatusNot evaluated
Additional NotesCan survive out of water for short periods of time, may jump out of the aquarium if startled


  • Common Name: Dinosaur Bichir
  • Scientific Name: Polypterus senegalus
  • Family: Polypteridae
  • Order: Polypteriformes

The Dinosaur Bichir belongs to the family Polypteridae, which includes several other bichir species. They are part of the order Polypteriformes, which is a group of ancient fish species that have remained relatively unchanged for millions of years.

Natural Habitat & Distribution

The Dinosaur Bichir is native to Africa, where it can be found in a variety of freshwater environments such as rivers, streams, and swamps. They are most commonly found in the rivers and floodplains of West and Central Africa, including the Nile, Niger, and Congo River basins.

In the wild, Dinosaur Bichirs inhabit slow-moving or still waters with plenty of vegetation and hiding places, such as submerged logs, rocks, and aquatic plants. They are also capable of surviving in low-oxygen environments by gulping air at the surface, which allows them to breathe atmospheric oxygen.

It is important to note that due to overfishing and habitat loss, the wild populations of Dinosaur Bichirs have declined in recent years. As a result, most individuals available in the aquarium trade are now captive-bred.

Physical Appearance

The Dinosaur Bichir has a unique and distinctive appearance that sets it apart from most other fish species. They have an elongated, cylindrical body shape with bony scales covering their skin. Adult Dinosaur Bichirs can reach up to 16-20 inches (40-50 cm) in length and can weigh up to 1-2 pounds (0.5-1 kg).

Their coloration can vary depending on their environment and age, but they are typically dark brown or black with lighter colored undersides. They also have lighter spots or speckles on their bodies, which can become more prominent as they age.

Dinosaur Bichirs have a large dorsal fin that runs the length of their body, as well as a pair of pectoral fins and a pair of pelvic fins. They also have a small anal fin and a rounded caudal fin.

There are no major differences in appearance between male and female Dinosaur Bichirs, although females may appear slightly plumper when carrying eggs.

Behavior & Temperament

Dinosaur Bichirs are generally peaceful and solitary fish, spending much of their time hiding among rocks, logs, or plants. They are nocturnal and prefer to be active at night, although they may adjust to daytime activity if they are consistently fed during the day.

While they are generally peaceful, Dinosaur Bichirs are also opportunistic predators and may eat smaller tankmates if they are hungry or feel threatened. They have been known to attack and eat fish that are small enough to fit into their mouths, so it is important to choose tankmates carefully.

Dinosaur Bichirs are compatible with larger, peaceful species that are not likely to be mistaken for prey, such as larger cichlids or catfish. They should not be housed with small or delicate species, as they may view them as potential food. It is also important to provide plenty of hiding places and territory to reduce stress and prevent aggressive behavior.

Aquarium Requirements

To provide a healthy and comfortable environment for your Dinosaur Bichir, it is important to consider the following aquarium requirements:

  • Minimum tank size: At least 75 gallons for one adult, with additional 50 gallons for each additional fish.
  • Water parameters: Temperature: 75-82°F (24-28°C), pH: 6.5-7.5, Hardness: 5-15 dGH.
  • Filtration and aeration needs: A powerful filter with a high turnover rate is recommended to maintain water quality and oxygenation. Additional aeration may also be necessary.
  • Substrate preferences: Dinosaur Bichirs prefer soft sand or fine gravel substrate, as they like to bury themselves during the day and may injure themselves on rough substrates.
  • Lighting requirements: Dinosaur Bichirs do not require intense lighting and may prefer dimly lit tanks to reduce stress. However, some lighting is necessary to support plant growth and to simulate a day/night cycle.
  • Decorations and hiding places: Provide plenty of hiding places and decorations such as rocks, caves, and driftwood to replicate their natural habitat. Live or artificial plants can also be added, but be aware that Dinosaur Bichirs may uproot or eat them.

It is important to maintain consistent water quality and to perform regular water changes to keep ammonia and nitrite levels low. Additionally, be sure to avoid using any medications or treatments that may harm bony fish species like the Dinosaur Bichir.

Diet & Feeding

Dinosaur Bichirs are carnivorous fish that require a varied diet of meaty foods to stay healthy and thrive in captivity. They are opportunistic feeders in the wild and will eat a variety of prey, including fish, shrimp, insects, and worms.

In captivity, Dinosaur Bichirs can be fed a variety of live, frozen, or freeze-dried foods such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, krill, earthworms, and small pieces of fish or shrimp. They may also accept pellets or sticks specifically formulated for carnivorous fish.

Feed your Dinosaur Bichir once or twice daily, offering only what they can eat in a few minutes to avoid overfeeding and to maintain good water quality. Be sure to remove any uneaten food promptly to prevent it from decomposing in the tank.

To provide a balanced and varied diet, it is important to offer a mix of different foods, including live or frozen foods, high-quality pellets or sticks, and occasional treats such as chopped earthworms or shrimp. This will help ensure that your Dinosaur Bichir receives all the necessary nutrients and vitamins to stay healthy and maintain its natural coloration.

Tank Mates

Dinosaur Bichirs are generally compatible with larger, peaceful fish species that are not likely to be viewed as prey. However, they should not be kept with small or delicate species that may be seen as potential food.

Good tank mates for Dinosaur Bichirs include:

  • Large cichlids such as Oscars, Severums, or Geophagus
  • Large catfish such as Plecos or Synodontis
  • Other bichir species such as the Senegal Bichir or the Ornate Bichir
  • Some large tetras such as Congo Tetras or Buenos Aires Tetras
  • Other large, peaceful fish species that are too big to fit into the Dinosaur Bichir’s mouth

Incompatible or potentially problematic tank mates include:

  • Small fish such as neon tetras or guppies
  • Delicate fish such as angelfish or gouramis
  • Aggressive or territorial fish such as cichlids like the Jewel Cichlid or the Red Devil
  • Bottom-dwelling fish that may compete for territory or food such as loaches or Corydoras catfish

When creating a community tank with Dinosaur Bichirs, it is important to provide ample hiding places and territories to reduce stress and prevent aggressive behavior. Additionally, monitor the tank closely to ensure that all fish are getting enough food and that there is no aggression or territorial behavior towards smaller or weaker tank mates.


Breeding Dinosaur Bichirs in captivity is rare and can be challenging due to their size and unique reproductive behavior. They are not sexually dimorphic, which means it can be difficult to tell males and females apart.

Breeding behavior in Dinosaur Bichirs typically involves a male chasing a female around the tank and nudging her abdomen to encourage her to release eggs. Once the eggs are released, the male will fertilize them externally by releasing sperm into the water.

Ideal breeding conditions for Dinosaur Bichirs include a large tank with plenty of hiding places, as well as clean and well-oxygenated water. The water temperature should be raised slightly to around 82°F (28°C), and a water change with slightly cooler water may be required to stimulate spawning.

After spawning, the eggs will hatch in approximately 6-7 days, and the fry will be free-swimming after a few days. It is important to provide suitable food for the fry, such as infusoria, baby brine shrimp, or finely crushed flake food.

Raising fry can be challenging due to their small size and sensitivity to water quality, so it is important to perform frequent water changes and maintain good water quality. Separating the fry from the adult fish may also be necessary to prevent predation.

Breeding Dinosaur Bichirs can be a rewarding but challenging endeavor, and it is recommended for experienced hobbyists who have a good understanding of fish breeding and care.

Health & Disease

Dinosaur Bichirs are generally hardy and resistant to disease when provided with proper care and a healthy environment. However, they may be susceptible to some common fish diseases, including:

  • Ich: A parasitic disease that causes white spots on the skin and fins of infected fish. Symptoms may include scratching against tank decorations and lethargy. Treatment with medication and raised water temperature is typically effective.
  • Fin rot: A bacterial infection that causes the fins to become ragged and frayed. Symptoms may include loss of appetite and lethargy. Treatment with medication and improved water quality is typically effective.
  • Dropsy: A bacterial infection that causes the fish to become bloated and develop raised scales. Symptoms may include loss of appetite, lethargy, and difficulty swimming. Treatment with medication and improved water quality is typically difficult and prevention is the best strategy.

To prevent disease, it is important to maintain good water quality through regular water changes and proper filtration. Avoid overfeeding and overcrowding, and be sure to quarantine new fish before adding them to your main tank to prevent the spread of disease.

If you notice any signs of illness in your Dinosaur Bichir, it is important to act quickly and seek advice from a qualified aquatic veterinarian or experienced fish keeper. Early diagnosis and treatment can greatly increase the chances of a full recovery.

Care Level

Dinosaur Bichirs are generally considered to be a fish species that requires intermediate to advanced care due to their unique needs and potential size. While they are hardy and can tolerate a range of water conditions, they require a large tank with plenty of hiding places and ample swimming space.

Special considerations or requirements for caring for Dinosaur Bichirs include:

  • Tank size: Due to their potential size, Dinosaur Bichirs require a large tank of at least 125 gallons, with a minimum length of 6 feet to allow for adequate swimming space.
  • Water quality: Dinosaur Bichirs are sensitive to poor water quality, so it is important to perform regular water changes, maintain proper filtration and aeration, and monitor water parameters such as temperature, pH, and hardness.
  • Diet: Dinosaur Bichirs are carnivorous and require a varied diet of meaty foods to thrive. It is important to offer a mix of live, frozen, or freeze-dried foods to provide a balanced and varied diet.
  • Tank mates: Dinosaur Bichirs can be kept with other large, peaceful fish species, but should not be kept with small or delicate species that may be viewed as prey. It is important to provide ample hiding places and territories to reduce stress and prevent aggression.
  • Special care for juveniles: Juvenile Dinosaur Bichirs may require special care due to their small size and sensitivity to water quality. It may be necessary to provide smaller tanks or separation from adult fish to prevent predation and maintain good water quality.

Conservation Status

The Dinosaur Bichir is not currently evaluated on the IUCN Red List and its conservation status is not well-known. However, as with many fish species, habitat loss, pollution, and overfishing may pose a threat to wild populations.

In terms of keeping the species in captivity, there are currently no legal restrictions on owning or breeding Dinosaur Bichirs. However, it is important to ensure that fish are obtained from reputable sources and not collected from the wild, which can contribute to the depletion of wild populations.

Overall, while the conservation status of the Dinosaur Bichir is not well-known, it is important to support responsible and sustainable fish keeping practices to ensure the long-term health and survival of this unique species.

Additional Information & Fun Facts

  • Dinosaur Bichirs are known for their unique appearance and prehistoric look, with a long, cylindrical body, armor-like scales, and small eyes located near the top of their head.
  • They are commonly referred to as “living fossils” due to their resemblance to ancient fish species that lived millions of years ago.
  • Dinosaur Bichirs have the ability to breathe air in addition to extracting oxygen from water, allowing them to survive in low-oxygen environments or even briefly leave the water.
  • Despite their prehistoric appearance, Dinosaur Bichirs are active and curious fish that can develop a bond with their owners over time.
  • They have been known to recognize their owners and come to the surface to be fed or interact with them.
  • Dinosaur Bichirs have a unique hunting behavior where they will lie motionless on the bottom of the tank, waiting for prey to come close before lunging forward to catch it.
  • While they are generally peaceful and non-aggressive, Dinosaur Bichirs have been known to eat small fish that can fit into their mouth.
  • They are a long-lived species, with some individuals reportedly living up to 25 years in captivity.
  • Dinosaur Bichirs have a strong following among experienced fish keepers who appreciate their unique appearance and behaviors.

Overall, Dinosaur Bichirs are a fascinating and unique fish species that can make a great addition to the right aquarium setup. Their prehistoric appearance and behaviors make them a favorite among many hobbyists, while their hardy nature and long lifespan make them a rewarding species to care for over the long term.

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